Centers can be an excellent method for teaching students
effectively. Working with children in a small group setting allows for more
direct teaching and enhanced student response. Centers provide a less intimidating
environment for the students and give the teacher the opportunity to focus on
specific areas of study. Although centers take a lot of organization and preparation
on your part, in the end the work can really pay off.
Any area of study can be taught using centers, but
I've found them to be particularly successful with language arts; students can
learn reading, spelling, and writing in small groups.
A good time of day to do centers is first thing in
the morning when the students are awake and focused. This is also the most convenient
time for classroom volunteers, since many of them may be dropping their children
off at school. The following steps will help you get centers up and running
in your classroom.
Grouping children for centers
Divide your class into four even groups. You can divide
them by their developmental reading ability, by table groups, alphabetically,
Name each of your groups. Names can be after colors,
shapes, foods, animals, or something related to what you are studying. After
each group is named, put a corresponding sticker on the students' desk name-tag
to help them remember what group they are in. (This will also be helpful for
Remember to keep the groups flexible, and allow for
movement among them.
Setting up a schedule for centers
First thing in the morning is a great time to run language
arts centers. If school starts at 8:30, give yourself 15 minutes to get the
students inside and settled, and begin your centers at 8:45. This will allow
time to explain the centers for the day.
Centers should run for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes.
This provides for four centers at 18 minutes per center. It is important that
your students rotate to all four centers each day.
Rotating students through centers
Select a signal to change centers. It can be a patterned
clap, a bell, a song, or a specific word.
During the first week of school, have your students
walk through the centers to understand the procedure. One possibility is to
have your "center stations" set up in four different areas of your classroom.
This will allow students to rotate in a clockwise or counterclockwise fashion.
Practice this several times to show your students how you expect them to do
Parent help with centers
Parents can be of great help with centers. Set up a
volunteer calendar at the beginning of the year to schedule different parents
to come to class and run one center.
Have a schedule on each center's board that shows who
is running the center and a general title for the center.
After all of the parent volunteers have arrived for
the day, explain each center to the children and the volunteer.
If possible, have directions and sample work at the
centers for parents to refer to.
Ideas for centers One center should always be guided reading with the teacher.
The other three centers depend on the number of available volunteers.
word sorts, vocabulary, letters to student-of-the-week, language arts games,
phonics lessons, a thematic lesson from a unit of study, poetry, a writing
workshop, Readers Theatre, etc.
center, silent reading, book share, journal writing, independent language
Shana Ellison is a recent graduate of Dominican University
and works as a second-grade teacher at Meadow School in Petaluma, CA.